Rosa learned how to weave from her mother, who learned from her mother before that. For generations, the women in her family have been creating handwoven wool textiles using natural undyed wool, which they card, spin and weave with incredible skill on backstrap looms in Chiapas, Mexico.
There is an abundance of sheep in this region. Given this, along with the cooler climates of this area in Chiapas, wool garments are essential to traditional dress and textiles used in the home. Raw and spun wool flood the local marketplace, and serve as a base for the handmade goods of scores of local artisans.
When creating her textile pieces, Rosa and her daughter first sort and card bags of raw wool. This process consists of tufts of material being passed through the fine metal teeth of two wooden paddles until the wool is clean and fluffy.
Next comes the spinning process, which Rosa accomplishes not with machinery, but with a supported spindle – a tool that is composed of a carved double-pointed stick with a heavy shellacked ball on one end. The fibers are guided by hand onto the spindle as the stick spins evenly in a special wooden bowl on the floor. Tension is applied during the spinning process, which results in varying weights of yarn.
After all of the wool has been spun, Rosa prepares her backstrap loom, which have been used in the region since pre-Hispanic times. These portable, horizontal looms are constructed of two wooden beams that hold the warp yarn. The loom is attached to the maker with a belt (often made of leather) around the back. Men often stand while they work, while women traditionally kneel on a woven mat on the floor. One end of the loom is secured to a static location, such as a tree, and tension is adjusted by leaning back or forward into the piece, as needed. The patterns that emerge from backstrap work range from minimalistic solid textiles, to highly detailed patterns that sometimes take months to produce. While the pieces in the markets in Chiapas typically feature an incredible array of vibrant colors, often mixing two or three hues at a time, our featured custom pieces exist as the intersection of cotemporary design with traditional processes. Every piece is woven, assembled and sewn by hand and is completely one-of-a-kind.
Our collaboration with Rosa is based in ethical sourcing, and helps to provide a source of income for Rosa and her family. Clients who purchase these deluxe textile pieces are not only assured of fair pay and ethical production practices, but also that these quality works are fit to become heirlooms for future generations.
Emiliano, the family patriarch, and his wife of 54 years, Delfina, strive to produce innovative new designs on a yearly basis, along with the help of their immediate and extended family. The family are regularly chosen to participate in a host of exhibitions, and have won awards for their textile work that has helped to grow their recognition across Mexico and beyond.
The story began in 1920, with the family of Emiliano producing backstrap textiles pieces on the family compound. He learned the family business at a very young age, following the death of his father, in order to help with the family finances. His mother taught him how to card, spin and weave with wool—skills that Emiliano absorbed with dedication and an innate attention to detail.
When Emiliano and Delfina wed at 17 and 19 years old, they vowed to work together to carry on this family tradition. While the primary focus of their business has always been on quality, their efforts are also largely rooted in the introduction of evolving patterns, colors and techniques. Emiliano also took on the role of teacher and mentor in the 1970s and 80s, by instructing his family how to weave at a young age, along with providing classes for the local residents of their pueblo.
The traditional backstrap work of his family moved into production on standing pedal looms—a transition that allows for more flexibility in the size and patterns of textiles pieces that the family offers.
Textile production remains a family affair with Emiliano working side-by-side with his sons, nephews and grandsons in the rooftop weaving studio. Delfina and the women in the family champion the crucial marketing and customer service efforts, and also produce delicate hand-embroidered works. Our custom pieces were woven by three generations of men, assembled and sewn by two generations of women, and finished by hand with elegant hand finishes.
Top photos by Ehren Seeland. Bottom photos by Patti O'Neill.
With a family history rooted in handmade pottery work, Francisco learned the tools of his trade from generations of artisans. Francisco continues to honor the work of his ancestors through his current creative practice, however he has taken the teachings of his inspired lineage to the next level by introducing unusual natural elements to his work.
After living and working for over a decade in the United States, Francisco returned to his hometown in the Oaxaca valley in order to build a new life for himself. Given his dedicated work ethic and focus on saving money, he was able to build a home for his young family—an airy venue that also serves as his ceramics workshop.
The house sits at the top of a bumpy dirt road and features an open concept, along with large front windows that overlook his pueblo and a series of handmade kilns. Green space surrounds his home and offers a host of natural offerings which he has incorporated into his pieces.
Organic copal and tobacco are harvested by hand on his property, with both the sap and leaves being added into clay in order to arrive at his signature pearly charcoal colored pieces. Other elements are also sourced from the grounds, along with a local mine, in order to produce a range of earthy hues—from cream to orange to black.
Once the ceramics have been built by hand and also on the wheel, they are fired in one of his three kilns, depending on the size of the pieces. The process is in essence a contained pit firing, which sees the works added into temperatures of roughly 1,200 degrees for around an hour and a half. While this experimentation sees variation (and often surprises) in the final result, as a general rule, the longer the works remain in the fire, the more durable they become and the darker the color. Copal works emerge in midnight hues, while lighter pieces support one-of-a-kind burn marks that speak to the hand of the maker, along with the chosen process.
Given the nature of the natural elements used to create these pieces, they are safe for food service, oven, gas range and dishwasher. They are resistant to high heat and the color will not crack or fade as it is incorporated into the clay, not added in as glazed embellishments.
A collaboration between Francisco and Hecho, a Oaxacan business that promotes ethically sourced artisan products. Photos by Ehren Seeland.